Arctic Monkeys @ Manchester Arena, 7 Sep
The Sheffield outfit embrace the challenge of bringing Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino to arenas with a polished curtain-raiser in Manchester
“Manchester, I don’t know what to tell ya.”
Four months have passed since Arctic Monkeys took a violent left turn with their latest full-length and you suspect that much of tonight’s crowd, more accustomed to the rowdy rambunctiousness of their early efforts, or the sleek, sexy stylings of 2013’s AM, are still coming to terms with the evolution that Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino represents. Alex Turner, at least, does a good job of being the face of it; partly because he seems to exclusively be wearing precisely the sort of suit you’d expect from a wry, self-assured lounge singer of the type he approximates on the new album, and partly because his radical new skinhead was every bit as unexpected as Tranquility Base's languid lunar reflections.
There’s a gap to bridge then as they embark on this opening pair of dates on their first UK tour in nearly five years; between their older songs and these new ones, and between themselves and an audience with understandable doubts about how comfortably the likes of Batphone and One Point Perspective might sit in the midst of a rowdy Friday night atmosphere. Emboldened by a successful summer festival run, they include plenty of the new record tonight, framed by a stage set that’s in the shape of the hexagonal concept art from the album’s cover (Turner liked the idea of the shape on account of this being LP number six). Four Out of Five, all swagger and groove, opens proceedings, and already seems to have taken on the mantle of an unlikely singalong.
Some of the older material has been subtly retuned to suit the new record; the reliably chaotic Brianstorm now comes complete with a thumpingly heavy breakdown at the midpoint, whilst the late-night lament of 505, so often a set closer in the past, is shuffled towards the front of the pack. Do Me a Favour is a touch brisker and more purposeful than it used to be and Knee Socks, one of a slew of tracks from the still-urgent AM, feels prophetic now, maybe the closest they came on that album to tipping us off as to what was coming next.
Turner keeps himself to himself, with stage banter in short supply; as with his mercurial image and his rejection of social media, it lends him a certain mystique. Less unfathomable is drummer Matt Helders, who comes to life on the older tracks that, unlike Tranquility Base, demand a certain physicality. Even if The View from the Afternoon is showing its age in places lyrically (remember when you pressed unlock and then the star key to unlock your phone?) it remains an adrenaline rush, and From the Ritz to the Rubble’s wayward tale of nightclub aggravation is reeled off with such verve that you’d never believe they don’t often play it live.
There’s the occasional misstep; tonight, with the crowd's dancing shoes very much on, was perhaps not the night to hand a live debut to the moody and complex Science Fiction, whilst Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High? is curiously lightweight relative to its fan favourite status. Still, Do I Wanna Know? and R U Mine? have you scratching your head and wondering when was the last time a band on their fifth album knocked out two singles as essential as those; the former’s all curled-lip, hip-swinging sexiness, whilst the latter, built around a colossal percussive contribution from Helders, is an exercise in irresistible rock'n'roll arrogance. Before that, though, is the evening’s biggest indicator of Tranquility Base’s success; the glorious Star Treatment, which has Turner lyrically at his esoteric best and looking every inch the self-assured lounge lizard that he’s conjured as his mouthpiece for this record. He’s found the sweet spot between pleasing himself and pleasing the people – this live show is proof positive.